Jagmeet Singh wants to be the first New Democrat elected prime minister of Canada. It’s an uphill battle for sure — particularly for a man who doesn’t even have a seat in Parliament. But the two-term MPP from Brampton and deputy leader of the Ontario NDP says he’s drawing strength from communities that have not typically been engaged in the political process.
“We’ve been building a diverse team to reach out to people from all walks of life and all areas of activism, whether that’s environmental issues, electoral reform, LGBTQ2S, Indigenous communities and racial justice communities,” Singh tells Xtra. “People need to feel emotionally that a party is going to fight for issues that matter and stand up to inequality and injustice.”
On Aug 24, 2017, Singh released his policy platform on the LGBTQ initiatives that he would like to introduce. Canadian LGBT advocates have worked tirelessly and made a lot of progress, he writes in his platform, but “there is still much to do.”
“Government policies and services continue to be pervaded by prejudice, and too many Canadians who identify as LGBTQI2S+ find themselves the targets of structural discrimination,” Singh writes. “From the inability to access necessary and appropriate healthcare, to increased harassment by law enforcement, our governments have allowed Canadians to suffer as a result of their sexuality or gender identity. This has to end, starting with concrete moves by the federal government.”
If he becomes leader of the NDP, Singh says he’ll launch a total review of policies and practices to ensure they’re aligned with the recently passed trans-rights bill, such as gender markers on government-issued ID. He also promises to completely end the ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men.
And he’s promising to place an LGBT lens on housing strategies to improve training for shelter and service providers and “expand the mandate and funding of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy to directly address the needs of LGBTQI2S+ youth at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.”
“LGBTQI2S+ youth are particularly vulnerable to homelessness, because services designed to assist homeless youth are often unsafe or inaccessible to those who identify as LGBTQI2S+. This is unacceptable,” he writes in his platform.
While some of this may sound like a retread of policies and promises from the current Trudeau Liberal government, Singh says an NDP government led by him will do more than talk about initiatives for queer people.
“The NDP believes that it’s not enough to show up at a Pride parade,” Singh says. “The blood ban, this is something the Liberals promised they’d do something about. This is something that shouldn’t take a lot of time, but the government hasn’t acted on it.”
“We also need policies to address the inequalities that do exist. Let’s look at existing homophobic practices. Let’s look at how we can address gender identity and how that’s used in federal documents and ID.”
Singh has faced some scrutiny over his past actions on LGBT issues as an Ontario MPP. In 2015, when Ontario introduced a long-delayed update to its sexual health curriculum, which would include information about homosexuality and gender identities, Singh challenged the provincial government for failing to adequately consult and inform parents about the changes, and failing to respect the “diversity of beliefs” on the subject.
“The lack of inclusive consultation before announcing the curriculum was disrespectful to parents in my constituency and a mistake on the Liberal government’s part,” he told the Ontario legislature on March 2, 2015.
“Ontario is a diverse province, and we must respect the diversity of beliefs when it comes to educating our children,” he continued. “Many people agree that health education is important, but my constituents have sought clarification about the age-appropriateness of some materials. My constituents deserve to have their voices heard, and the government has a responsibility to address their concerns.”
Before the curriculum changes were announced, Singh also spoke at a community town hall in his riding, where parents expressed anger over the anticipated changes, but he challenged them and urged them to find out more about the curriculum before drawing any conclusions. He also challenged the government to more inclusively consult parents and the public around the proposed changes.
Some queer people saw in Singh’s comments to the legislature similar dog whistles to anti-LGBT groups that more conservative elements in Ontario politics explicitly court. At a leadership debate in Victoria on Aug 3, 2017, rival NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton described Singh’s statements as “the kind of language I expect from Conservatives.”
But Singh says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I went into an environment that was opposed to the curriculum and called everyone out for being uneducated on the matter,” he says. “I took a very gutsy bold stance in a very unfriendly crowd, championing the issues, making sure people are aware of the facts and knowledge.”
“I was very critical of the government for not providing information, all the amazing science . . . that talks to how important sexual health education is, how important it is to ensure it’s delivered at a younger age now, given changes to the age of puberty for young people,” Singh says. “There’s so much evidence and the government purposely did not provide that evidence to communities in their language of comfort and choice.”
“They specifically excluded a vast diverse community, and because of the government not providing information, right wing and conservative forces basically provided all the information and inflamed the community . . . That offended me, and continues to offend me, because we would not be in this position where the right provided all the information if the government did its job.”
Singh says that despite opposition from some segments of immigrant communities in Ontario towards some LGBT issues, there are in fact natural alliances between queer communities and other equity-seeking groups.
“It’s really important that the LGBT2QS community knows that as a member of an equity-seeking community, I get how prejudicial viewpoints and how stereotypes that are reinforced by a government, how much they can harm people, hurt people and marginalize people,” he says.
“There’s no way that a deputy leader of a New Democratic Party could be anything less than an ardent and ferocious champion for all communities, including the LGBTQ2S community.”
While it’s still far too early to guess who’ll come out on top in the NDP leadership race in October, Singh’s campaign is already showing strength over his four rivals. Reporting from Elections Canada last month also showed that Singh has out-fundraised all the other candidates combined.
“One of the things that I’ve been doing is outreach to as many communities as possible, making sure that people who have social progressive values, who’ve never been engaged in partisan politics, and certainly never felt at home in the NDP, making sure they have a home,” he says.